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Hampshire retained the South East Counties Championship with a 1-0 victory over Kent at Sevenoaks on Wednesday evening.
Although both teams still have a match to play, Vanessa Raynbird's team cannot now be caught. The withdrawal of Surrey mid-season left just three teams in the competition and Hampshire's hard earned victory, on the back of a 3-1 home win over Kent in October, settled matters earlier than in previous seasons.
Both sides had strong squads, although Kent had players unavailable owing to England Under-19 training camp call ups. Hants relied on a core of Premier League Portsmouth players and four starters from Combination teams Havant & Waterlooville and University of Portsmouth. Kent's team was made up of players from Charlton Athletic, Gillingham and West Ham.
A very even first half, played at a cracking pace, saw Kent dominate the opening exchanges whilst Hampshire forced several corners, with Fiona McMillan going close on three occasions. Kent were able to stretch the visitors defence with early passes to exploit the pace of their attack, whereas Hampshire often shifted the ball to the left where Shelly Cox put over a stream of dangerous crosses.
Hampshire's Sadie Blakely was by far the busier of the two keepers and had a faultless match with excellent agility and handling but Hampshire were closest to scoring before the break with a 30-yard shot rebounding off the inside of the post.
Although Kent continued to threaten after the restart, their shooting was often wayward and Blakely dealt very well with everything on target. Hampshire got the vital breakthrough when Chloe Ranger was sent clear and finished coolly past the advancing Kelly Cooper just after the hour. Cox almost doubled the lead and Charley Wilson, who had an outstanding match in attack, had a header ruled out for offside. Kent, needing a victory, pushed forward right to the end, prompted by Kim Dixson, but the visitors worked very hard all over the pitch to frustrate them and claim a fine victory where every player.contributed well.
Both teams have a final match against Oxfordshire scheduled for the coming months.
Kent: Kelly Cooper, Jay Blackie, Jordan Butler, Becky Duggan, Kim Dixson, Amy Russ, Deanna Cooper, Kit Graham, Sarah Jones, Stef Simmons, Jenny Newman, Elisabeta Ejupi, Katie Hardaker, Sarah Jones, Kristina Manktelow, Livvy McGregor, Tracey Duxbury.
Hampshire: Sadie Blakely, Lysette Russell, Lauren Cheshire, Laura Oakes, Fiona McMillan, Kirsty McGee, Leeta Rutherford, Shelly Cox, Michelle Niven, Charley Wilson, Chloe Ranger, Lucy Quinn, Justine Mosely, Natasha Angel, Krystal Whyte, Kaylee Schumann-Edwards.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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